Jewish Aid Group Issues Fundraising Appeal For Struggling Uyghur Refugees in Turkey

World Jewish Relief says 6,000 Uyghurs are in need of urgent financial and medical assistance.
2021-04-20
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Jewish Aid Group Issues Fundraising Appeal For Struggling Uyghur Refugees in Turkey A promotional image from the World Jewish Relief fundraising appeal for needy Uyghur families who fled the XUAR to Turkey.
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A U.K.-based Jewish aid group has issued a fundraising appeal on behalf of Uyghur refugees who have fled oppression in northwest China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) and relocated to Turkey, where they require financial and medical assistance as they assimilate to their new home.

World Jewish Relief (WJR) said in its appeal that it will use all funds raised to provide food, healthcare access, and psychiatric care to needy Uyghur families who escaped abuses in the XUAR that the U.S. government and several other Western parliaments have designated part of a policy of genocide in the region.

“In recent years, over 11,000 Uyghurs have risked a hazardous journey and fled to Turkey to escape this persecution,” the April 15 appeal said.

“Turkey initially welcomed their arrival, but tragically many are now stranded there with no right to work, no food, and no means of support. Most cannot access employment or the health system and are unable to gain citizenship or refugee status. They risk being interned if they return to China and live in a constant state of fear.”

Turkey is home to more than 50,000 of the world’s nearly 12 million Uyghurs, who historically have viewed a fellow Turkic nation as a refuge and advocate for their religious and cultural rights.

But WJR said that more than 6,000 Uyghur refugees in the country “urgently need our assistance” and called for donations to support “this extremely vulnerable community in exile.”

Ephraim Mirvis, Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth, noted his endorsement for the campaign in a word of support appended to the online appeal, noting that even by meeting its funding goals, the WJR will ultimately be unable to help all Uyghurs in need of assistance.

Authorities are believed to have held up to 1.8 million Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities accused of harboring “strong religious” and “politically incorrect” views in a vast network of internment camps in the XUAR since 2017. While Beijing initially denied the existence of the camps, China in 2019 changed tack and began describing the facilities as “boarding schools” that provide vocational training for Uyghurs, discourage radicalization, and help protect the country from terrorism.

But reporting by RFA’s Uyghur Service and other media outlets suggest that those in the camps are detained against their will and subjected to political indoctrination, routinely face rough treatment at the hands of their overseers and endure poor diets and unhygienic conditions in the often-overcrowded facilities.

Reports also suggest that Uyghurs being subjected to torture, forced labor, state-enforced birth control including forced sterilizations and abortions, and cultural eradication. These practices amount to a policy of genocide, the U.S. State Department determined in January.

Local community ties

Annie Levy, an event coordinator and communications director for WJR, told RFA that by forming a relationship with a group that is already working in Turkey, her organization had been able to quickly establish a connection to the local Uyghur community.

“We’re hoping for at least a six-month project, whereby through a local community center we are delivering [aid],” she said.

“So, we’ll be fundraising within the [Jewish] community whilst also working closely with our local partner to deliver the response, as they deliver the response on the ground in Istanbul.”

Levy said WJR will do as much as it can to help every individual who is in need of support, although she acknowledged that “there will always be people that can’t be reached.”

“We are a humanitarian agency, so we wanted to look at where we could bring our expertise and our capacity to this issue,” she said.

“We hope that we’ll be able to fundraise from the Jewish community so that we can support as many people for as long as we can.”

Disturbing parallels

Rahima Mahmut, director of the London office of the World Uyghur Congress (WUC) exile group, told RFA’s Uyghur Service that WJR had sought her out and asked what the organization could do to support the Uyghur community in exile.

“They came looking for us, and I do see myself as having been a facilitator after I told them about the on-the-ground situation,” she said.

“They looked into the matter more, sent people to Turkey, and came to understand the situation there, and [have since] put out a formal advertisement that they are going to assist 6,000 families.”

Mahmut noted that global Jewish organizations have taken the situation in the XUAR very seriously, given the parallels to what their community endured in the lead up to Nazi Germany’s slaughter of some six million Jews, Roma, and others during World War II.

“In a time when Uyghurs are undergoing some of their most difficult days, Jewish people have become some of the closest friends of the Uyghurs,” she said.

“The fact that the Jewish people have added their voice [to ours] is one of the main reasons that the Uyghur cause has amassed such strength in the U.K.”

Mahmut also expressed confidence that WJR can help to close a gap in the distribution of humanitarian and economic aid to Uyghur refugee families that other, already overtaxed organizations are unable to fill.

Jewish support

An increasing number of Jewish organizations and activists have voiced their support for the Uyghur community over the past year.

In March and April 2020, the Washington-based U.S. Holocaust Museum labeled the persecution of Uyghurs in the XUAR “crimes against humanity” and added China to a list of case studies over its mass internment of Uyghurs.

In January this year, while marking Holocaust Memorial Day, Helen Freeman, co-senior Rabbi of the West London Synagogue of British Jews, and several other Jewish leaders called on citizens to lobby their lawmakers to push for a genocide determination regarding the situation in the XUAR and to factor that into any dealings their governments have with Beijing.

Reported by Nuriman for RFA’s Uyghur Service. Translated by the Uyghur Service. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.

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